LIGHT FROM DARKNESS

This entry is part of 21 in the series article 27

" If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is 
that darkness! " MATTHEW vi. 23. 

THERE are many truths and teachings in these 
deep words of Jesus. I have turned to them more 
than once before for the help and guidance which 
they contain ; and there are no fitter words in all our 
Saviour's teaching to bring us the idea which I now 
wish to dwell upon. That idea is that every man has 
his own point of entrance for the divine life, and 
that if he does not let it in through that door, 
nay, if his soul does not stand at that door waiting 
to welcome it, the divine life may pass him by and 
he will be responsible. He will not only be the 
loser; he will be to blame for the earthliness and 
darkness in which his life goes on. So vague and 
loose and unreasonable are the thoughts of most 
people as to the way in which men become Chris- 
tians ; so often it seems to most people as if it were 
all a mystery, without explanation and without law, 
as to whether God would come to men with His 
Spirit, and as to how He would come; that I think 
it must be a great help to us if we can clearly under- 
stand that there is such a principle as this : that 
every man has his strong, characteristic point of 
temperament, of occupation, or of circumstances, 
where, if the Spirit of God ever does come to him, 
it will be sure to come, and by the nature of which 
the nature of the spiritual life which is possible for 
him must be determined. 

I may not be sure that the great royal guest who 
is travelling through the land will come into my 
poor house; but I know that, if he does come, he 
will have to come up just that homely path and 
through that humble doorway which lead to it ; 
therefore I keep its passage clear and its bolts drawn 
back. I do not know that the sun will shine out 
from behind the cloud ; but I know that if it does, 
this and this are the bright summit-points which it 
must kindle into flame, and from which its glory 
must be reflected to all the rest of the great build- 
ing. I do not know that I can ever win the friend- 
ship of such and such a man, who is far wiser and 
more than I am ; but I know that my only chance 
is not in trying to be something which I am not, or 
in pretending to be it, but solely in being frankly 
and thoroughly what I am, and in offering him that 
nature for his life to play upon and for his heart to 
love, if he can love it. I do not know that I can 
ever understand this idea which other men seem to 
make much of this philosophy which all mankind 
are praising, this school of thought which evidently 
has great truth in it I do not know that I can 
ever make it mine ; but I do know that if I ever do 
get hold of it, it must be with this particular hand 
of my nature that I seize it, and so my study shall 
be to keep this hand, in which my hope lies, flexible 
and alert. 

All these are illustrations of one truth from vari- 
ous regions of life. In every region there is some 
point through which the darkness of the whole re- 
gion must be reached by any light. If light comes, 
it must be caught there and radiated thence through- 
out the whole. Upon that point, then, anxiety 
fastens itself, and that point becomes critical. To 
that point the warning applies : " If the light become 
darkness, how great is that darkness! " 

Now, I think that what a great many men need is 
to realize that just that is true about religion. There 
is some point in their nature, their occupation, or 
their circumstances, something in them made up 
from their nature, their occupation, or their cir- 
cumstances, which marks how they are to be Chris 
tians, and what sort of Christians they are to be. 
Religion does not fall into a nature like a shower 
from the clouds. It enters like a guest into the 
gate. Every man may say this much of himself : I 
do not know that I can ever be religious, but if I am, 
I am such a man, so built by nature and so shaped 
by circumstances, that it is thus and thus that my 
religion must come in. And when a man has real- 
ized that, then self-study must become a very seri- 
ous and earnest thing, and the responsibility for the 
open door of his own soul a very distinct and ever- 
present consciousness. The watch over the light 
that is in him, lest it should turn into darkness, 
must be a continual care. 

Let us follow this somewhat more into detail. I 
have alluded to the nature, the occupations, and the 
circumstances of men as the elements which decide 
what sort of door in them shall open to religion. 
And we may speak in turn of each of these. 

1. And, first, about men's natures. There are 
broad, deep differences of character which decide for 
men the nature of their Christian life. They make 
great chasms. He who is a Christian on one side 
of them, is different from him who is a Christian on 
the other. Lift up your eyes and look at the differ- 
ence of the very essential natures of men, as they 
stand together in our picturesque and various hu- 
manity. One class or division of men lives in 
thought. Everything is to them a problem. An- 
other class lives in action. Everything is to them a 
task. There are the men of solitude, who seek to 
be alone as naturally as the beast flees into the 
forest ; and there are the men of society who seek 
to be together as naturally as the cattle collect 
themselves in herds. Some men are always con- 
servative ; they cannot do a rash thing. Other men 
are all enterprise ; they cannot do a prudent thing. 
Some men are intrinsically self-reliant. Other men 
must rest their hand upon some brother's shoulder, 
and then they can do valiant work. Some men are 
credulous and long to believe. Other men are 
skeptical, and to doubt is to them as native as to 
breathe. Everywhere are the differences of natures. 
There need be no end to the enumeration. 

And what do these differences mean? What shall 
we say about them? What shall we think when, out 
of the confusion of our own self-watched lives, there 
comes gradually forth a consciousness of what we 
are, of what the special nature is in us that separates 
and distinguishes us from other men? Shall we 
merely be fascinated and dazzled with the sparkling 
variety of life in general? Shall we simply be hum- 
bled or exalted with the smallness or the glory of 
the separate distinctive quality which we discover in 
our own selves? If there is a higher life for man to 
live, if there is a sunshine which may break over all 
this human landscape and transfigure it, then to any 
man who knows that such a sunshine is, and who 
expects its dawning, the landscape as a whole, and 
every bit of it, must get its value from its actual 
or possible relationship to that sunshine. Every 
variety of character must be prized because it can 
catch the life, the love, the authority, of God, in 
some way especially its own; and every man's own 
nature, as he comes to know it, must interest him 
because he knows, in knowing it, how he is to know 
God, whom truly to know is truly and thoroughly 
to live. 

Our modern novels study character with wonder- 
ful acuteness. Our essayists depict the infinite va- 
riety of men which exists within the evident unity 
of man. Men pore over themselves, and make 
themselves proud or miserable with understanding 
or misunderstanding what they are. It is poor busi- 
ness, unless man knows what man is for; and is 
seeking to know himself only that he may open 
himself more abundantly to God. Take for instance 
the last of the kinds of character of which I spoke 
just now: a man studies his own nature, and says 
as the result, "Yes, I am skeptical. I question 
everything. I cannot help it. It is innate. I did 
it when I was a child. I shall do it till I die. I 
shall do something like it after I am dead and am 
gone to heaven. What then? Is that a sign that 
there is no Christian faith for me, and an excuse 
from all responsibility to seek it? Surely not. 
That very skepticism must be the door by which I 
must stand to keep the passage pure and clear. I 
must be responsible for it. I must not merely doubt 
men's affirmations; I must doubt my own doubts. 
I must question the denials that men bring. I 
must keep my questioning faculty pure of conceit, 
and so out of this sifting of doubt on doubt, at last 
the precious kernel of truth may lie there shining 
and manifest, not wrapt in so many envelopes, 
perhaps, as some other men wrap their belief in, and 
so not looking as if it were as large as theirs, but 
yet all there, and all the more clearly there, all the 
more strongly held, because of the very, native 
skepticalness of the soul that holds it/ 

This must be so. Either the questioning temper 
is a disease, and not a nature, which all our experi- 
ence tells us is not the truth ; or else there are some 
souls built by the God that made them as if one 
built a house for himself to dwell in, but built it 
standing on its outside, and left no door for him- 
self, its destined occupant, to get in at when it was 
done. Either one or other of these things is true. 
Or else a doubting temper, if it be pure and not 
dimmed and blocked up with self-conceit, may be 
itself a window for God to shine through, a door for 
God to come through. There was a faith in Thomas 
by reason of his doubt, not merely in spite of 
his doubt. His doubt was the light that was in 
him. 

Here is a kind of self-study and self-knowledge 
which is precious indeed. Here is a value for our 
own peculiar nature which brings to one who has it 
a quiet, grave, and lofty self-respect and joy, in being 
what he is, that is as pure of self-conceit as it is filled 
with solemn responsibility. 

Why is it that you love the house where you have 
lived from your childhood, that you honor it 
and would be very sorry to live in any other? You 
know it is not the best house in town ; there are 
better houses by the score ; but this is yours. In it 
your life has taken shape. In through its window 
the sky and sun and stars have looked at you and 
given you impressions of themselves. In through 
its doors your friends have entered with their in- 
fluences. The shapes of its rooms, the windings of 
its passages, have formed the habits in which the joy 
and sorrow of your life have taken coloring. And 
so the value of your home is in the way in which 
life has come to you through it. 

Very like indeed, I think, to men's relations to 
their homes is their relation to their natures. In 
the qualities of their natures, as in the walls of their 
houses, their selves abide, which are one with and 
yet are other than the natures they abide in ; and 
through them to this inner self comes God. And 
the soul that has learned to love God forever honors 
and loves the nature through which God came to it, 
with that special manifestation of Himself which is 
its life. 

2. Think, secondly, about the occupations of our 
lives, and see how they, too, get their real signifi- 
cance and value as the entrance-points of God into 
us, and the exhibition-points of God through us to 
other men. You sit here in church, in this Sunday 
promiscuousness, the representatives of very various 
occupations. You did different things yesterday. 
You will do different things to-morrow. One of 
you sells goods, another builds houses, another 
pleads causes, another counts money, another cures 
sickness : what does it all mean? Is it merely a con- 
venient distribution of the work that has been done 
in the world, as if the master of a house said to one 
servant, "You sweep the sidewalk while another 
piles the wood"? Must it not be far more than 
that? Remember how we spend our lives in doing 
these different things. Remember that the powers 
which the doing of these different things calls out in 
us are widely different. And if the giving of God's 
life to a man's life is always in connection with some 
human activity, some action of its powers, if God 
cannot give Himself to a totally passive creature, 
must it not follow that according to the sort of 
activity that prevails in our lives, so will be our re- 
ception of God, our relation to His authority and 
love and teaching, which is our religion? 

Let any religious man among you suppose that 
the whole occupation of his life had been different 
from what it has been ; suppose that all these years 
you had been tilling the ground instead of selling 
goods, or building houses instead of teaching schools ; 
could your religion have been just what it has been, 
just what it is to-day? If so, then your religion 
must have been a very limited and partial thing, a 
candle burning in some shut and sacred chamber of 
your life, not a true fire burning all though your 
life and keeping it all ablaze. And what a terrible 
waste there has been if all your professional life, all 
your life in your trade or occupation, has been kept 
so purely secular that it has given no character to 
your religion ! It is sure to be equally true that it 
has got no character from your religion either. No ; 
in a true sense a man's occupation is his living. It 
is the true front door to his life. By it the visitor 
or the occupant of the life must come in. 

What you ought to teach your boy, when he makes 
the selection of his work in life, is that the deepest 
and most critical value of that selection is that he is 
really choosing in what way he shall ask the God to 
whom his life belongs to come and take possession 
of his life. And when his selection is once made, 
you ought to make him know that there, in his pro- 
fession, is where he is to look for God to come to 
him. It is in the power to resist its special tempta- 
tions that he is to learn what wonderful strength 
God can give. It is in the training of the peculiar 
powers of usefulness which it develops that he is to 
receive God's gracious education. It is in the con- 
solation of its peculiar sorrows that he is to lay hold 
of God's abounding comfort ; and it is in the charac- 
ter which his profession, at its best, demands, that 
he is to manifest the life of God before mankind. 

Such a conviction about any man's profession, fill- 
ing his soul as he went into it, would have two good 
results. It would at once enlarge it and sanctify it. 
To the Christian merchant, the man who is so thor- 
oughly a merchant that he sees clearly that if he is 
to be a Christian at all, it is a merchant Christian 
that he must be, to such a man his mercantile life 
enlarges itself until it becomes for him the type of 
all service of God, and puts him into communion 
and sympathy with all God's servants everywhere; 
and, at the same time, being his special form of ser- 
vice, it acquires a sacredness and is done with a 
scrupulousness that no merely secular occupation, 
considered only as secular, could command. 

It is this union of largeness and specialness that 
makes the truest beauty of all human life. The 
man whose sense of his own personalness is most 
intense, and yet who in it reads the parable of the 
greater personality of Man, and through it is kept 
in truest sympathy with all his race; he always is 
the richest and most interesting man. The land- 
scape that fascinates you with its own clear beauty, 
and at the same time suggests the beauty of all the 
variously beautiful world, is always the most power- 
ful to satisfy the soul. And so the task that twines 
your conscientious interest into its minute details 
and at the same time makes you one with all workers 
in all faithful work, that is the task which most 
feeds the life of him who does it. And such a char- 
acter belongs not to any one occupation or class of 
occupations, but to any occupation occupied re- 
ligiously, to any duty done in conscious obedience 
to God, and valued as the means by which He with 
His help and authority and teaching may come in 
and take possession of the soul. 

3. I spoke of the natures of men and of their oc- 
cupations as making them special points for the re- 
flection of the light of God, and I spoke also of their 
circumstances. If the light that is in thee be dark- 
ness how great is that darkness! " says Christ, and 
I think that His words may well apply to any pe- 
culiar condition into which He leads one of our lives, 
and by which He means to make at once a deeper 
entrance into that life, and a larger illumination from 
it. There is something lost when any experience 
which God meant to have burn with Himself is 
allowed to stand dark in irreligiousness. 

A man goes down a street as night comes on, and 
lights the long row of lamps so that by and by the 
whole street is bright. But in the long row there is 
one lamp which refuses to be lighted, and will not 
burn, or which goes out after the man with the 
torch has passed on his way. What is the conse- 
quence? Will there not be all night a dark spot in 
the street, where that unlighted lamp comes? Will 
not each passenger stop there or stumble? Will not 
the stones or pitfalls that lie just there be the most 
dangerous? and will not that one unlighted spot 
make the whole street unsafe, no matter how 
brightly all the rest may shine? So God, I think, 
goes down our life and touches every experience 
with Himself, and as every experience becomes con- 
scious of having come from Him and of possibly re- 
vealing Him, it burns with Him. With the burning 
of all those experiences with God, our whole life 
becomes gradually alight. 

But now, suppose that there is one experience 
which, as God touches it, refuses to be lighted, or, 
after He has lighted it, goes out. There is one thing 
which has happened to us which we never can think 
of as having come from God ; what will the conse- 
quence be? Will there not always be one dark spot 
just there in the long street of our life? Will not 
the temptations and the doubts which arise in con- 
nection with that one event be always specially 
dangerous, and will not our whole life, no matter 
how bright the illumination of all the rest may 
be, be always unsafe because of that one unlighted 
experience? 

Oh, how many lives there are which have some 
such unilluminated experience somewhere in them ! 
Something happened to you once which you never 
could believe that God sent, or which you have 
never been able to keep associated with Him. Your 
child died, and you could not believe that He took 
it. Your child recovered, and you could not believe 
that He restored it. You made a fortune, and it 
seemed the triumph of your own shrewdness. You 
made a friend, and it seemed the triumph of your 
own attractiveness. You rose up from a sick bed, 
and thanked nobody but the doctors. You did a 
hard duty, and congratulated yourself upon the self- 
respect that had kept you from being mean or cruel. 
What is the consequence? Just at that point there 
is a lamp unlighted in your life. Whenever your 
memory goes by that point, it stumbles ; for it walks 
in darkness. Whenever you have to meet those 
same emergencies again, to welcome back another 
child from the grave's mouth, or to see another child 
depart from you to God, or to make another friend, 
or to resist a new temptation, no light comes stream- 
ing out from the old experience to make the new 
one plain. What is there left for us but to cry out 
after Him who is the Light-giver that He will come 
back, and even now touch that old dark experience 
with His illumination, so that it may be a help and 
not a hindrance, a light and not a darkness, in our 
lives? 

This is the way, then, in which circumstances or 
experiences become interpreters of God, His points 
of introduction to our lives. And here again there 
is the same meeting of specialness with generalness 
of which I spoke before. God comes into our life 
through one experience, but having come through 
that experience He spreads Himself then through all 
the life, He occupies the entire house. There are 
many histories among you, my friends, that will 
bear testimony to this. God revealed Himself to 
you first when He cured you of your sickness, but 
the God who then came to you, you have found 
since, is One who can do many another thing besides 
making sick people well. Nay, so complete is the 
knowledge of Himself that He gives us, when He 
has once entered into us, that very often the God 
who showed Himself first as the Healer of sickness 
has appeared by and by again as the Sender of sick- 
ness, and even as the Summoner of souls by death, 
and has been recognized through all the tears of 
sorrow by that first knowledge of Him which was 
won in the bright atmosphere of joy. 

Before I close let me say one word more. I have 
dared to talk to-day as if the special care of God for 
every man, and for every act and experience of every 
man, were not too great a thought for man to think, 
not too vast or incredible a faith for man to hold. 
To some people, to many people, it does seem in- 
credible. But, oh, remember that unless we believe 
that, there is no real vitality in our religion. And 
ought it to be incredible if we understood what 
God is? The sun shines down upon a mountain side, 
and every pebble catches its splendor and shines 
back its answer. And if you say, "But the sun has 
no feeling, no affection," then think of a great fam- 
ily and, tell me, does a true father grow bewildered 
among his children, and love or protect the least 
less than the greatest? Only make fatherhood per- 
fect and infinite, and you have God. It is only the 
essential difficulty of grasping the infinite that makes 
it so hard to conceive that God can care for all His 
children personally, and never forget the feeblest of 
them. 

And yet, hard as it is, men do believe it. Christ 
makes men believe it. We cannot live with Him 
and not believe it; because He believes it so in- 
tensely, He knows it so clearly. Let us try to live 
very near to Him, and then we cannot help believ- 
ing it, cannot help knowing it ; and then we cannot 
walk in darkness, but shall surely have the Light of 
Life.
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